MASSENA — Massena Public Library officials and some Louisville residents are charging that the town of Louisville illegally used taxpayer money to send out mailings on official town letterhead and used town postage to tell residents to vote no on the June 9 library proposition.
The town also has been served a notice of claim regarding the use of those funds.
“It was recently brought to our attention that the Louisville Town Council used taxpayer money to advocate and pay for the ‘vote no’ campaign regarding the upcoming Massena Public Library ballot referendum,” library officials said in a social media posting. “The misuse of taxpayer money is illegal under the New York State Constitution.
“The Louisville Town Council used taxpayer money to produce and distribute a mailing to all of its citizens on Town of Louisville letterhead. The document urged citizens to ‘vote no’ in the upcoming library ballot referendum. This action is an unauthorized and unconstitutional use of taxpayer money,” they said.
Louisville Supervisor Larry Legault agreed that in retrospect they would not have run into issues if they had not included the statement about voting no.
“The only exception was the last paragraph where it said to vote no,” he said. “Maybe we did the wrong thing about putting in that information.”
He said they wanted to let residents know the impact the change in the library’s status would have on their taxes. He said it would be 17 times what residents were currently paying and asked them if they wanted to pay that increase.
“Our letter that went to the residents specifically lays out all the information on how this affects the taxpayers in the town of Louisville,” Mr. Legault said. “I base my decision on what I do roughly on what the majority of the people who elected me to serve them would want me to do.”
“We have gotten a lot of feedback from our residents that the Louisville Town Board needed to get involved in this and do whatever they could to prevent this from happening,” he said.
In their letter to Louisville residents, town officials noted that they were not asked if they wanted to participate. They also explained the impact the additional tax will have on their bills.
“We may be forced by another community to pay its bills. Do the taxpayers want or can they afford another tax? Please VOTE NO on the ballot and mail back by June 9th. This will be our only chance to vote this tax away,” they wrote.
Malone attorney Kevin Nichols has filed a notice of claim against the town for six claimants who also believe public money should not have been used for the mailings.
“The thrust of the notice really is addressing the illegal expenditures of taxpayer funds. That’s just a clear violation of the law. It’s an egregious use of the public purse,” he said.
Mr. Nichols said the letter could have been legally mailed if there was no attempt to influence the residents by telling them to vote no on the proposition. The notice of claim is ongoing.
“At this point, since the notice of claim, if we can’t resolve it quickly, then the town has a right to take a deposition of the claimants under oath,” he said.
He suggested that there needed to be some “corrective message” with board members taking money out of their pockets to reimburse the town for the cost.
“We just want them to do the right thing,” he said.
Library Director Elaine Dunne said she was concerned about the town’s letter.
“I found that very sad that they would use that. It seems directed particularly at the older community,” she said. “That’s just very sad. The older community is the community we serve the best. We are always running programs for older people and looking for collections for older people. We’ve done surveys. We really have gone out of our way to serve them.”